Is it ok to have bacon cheeseburgers if I am skinny?
August 12, 2012 4:55 AM   Subscribe

I don't really exercise and my diet is poor. I never really worried about this because I have been naturally thin my whole life, but now that I am older (35 year old male) should I be concerned that my insides are turning to mush?

When I was a teenager, I was a skinny beanpole kid. I have slowly gained weight over the years and now I am 5' 11" and about 155 lbs. I am at that age where men and women alike are starting to really battle their weight and other health problems so many of my friends are now into diet and fitness.

I played lots of sports when I was a kid but now it is limited to a recreational basketball league once or twice a week. I don't eat McDonalds or Taco Bell but I do I eat out every meal. A typical lunch is a sub sandwich and some chips with water. For dinner I will eat at a restaurant and I almost always eat meat and drink wine or beer. Pasta with sausage, chinese food with pork and duck, etc. If I get a side salad it is going to have a bunch of cheese and dressing on it. If I get a vegetable it is going to have a lot of butter and garlic on it. I have no idea how many calories I eat per day or now many grams of fat or carbs or anything.

I went for a regular checkup a year ago and everything was fine, cholesterol, blood pressure and everything. I have no history of heart disease in my family either. Oddly enough, the story that really got me thinking about all this was the news about Frank Bruni, the NY Times food critic who was diagnosed with gout and now can't eat red meat and a bunch of other things. I would be devastated if something similar happened to me, I live in NYC and going out to eat and drink is pretty much my favorite thing to do. And hey, I don't want anything worse either, like a heart attack.

Obviously I could always be healthier, but am I on a path to destruction and just completely oblivious? What is the most dangerous thing that I am doing right now? Eating too much red meat? Not exercising?
posted by solmyjuice to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Not knowing what you're doing is probably the biggest hurdle. You can really help keep yourself in check by quantifying what you're consuming and/or what your activity level is, day to day. How you choose to do it is your deal, but doing it helps.

Diet and exercise can help, obviously. It's good to try things and find what works for you. I recommend Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Body, which explains why quantifying/tracking helps, plus science on how your body processes what you consume. And yes, if you're looking to drop a few extra pounds, the slow-carb diet (explained in the book) is great. It's restrictive in an easy way (you can still eat out, just make small changes). Plus, one day a week, you can consume whatever the hell you want to.
posted by 6 of 1 at 5:06 AM on August 12, 2012

I was one of those "didn't have to diet or exercise" people too. I was naturally thin through my 20's, started putting on weight but still was well within acceptable range into my 30's, and...then I hit menopause. Not only was the weight piling on, it was piling on around my middle, which not only means buying shapewear, it means increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Also, as a small-boned white woman, I'm at high risk for osteoporosis.

I'm now strength training, and doing Pilates and TRX. I'm doing this not just to look good in my vintage dresses, but to maintain my health and strength as I age. I want to be able to carry home my own groceries, keep my balance, and not break a hip. Diet - I'm much less successful at this because I have a sweet tooth that could demolish an entire dessert cart. But I'm trying to eat more fruits, veggies and organically-raised meats.

I don't know about "turning your insides to mush" but IME if you don't take care of yourself on some level - I don't mean strenuous exercise and strict diet necessarily, but getting up and moving and eating decent food - you will start to feel it in your 40's. And yes, you can be thin and unhealthy (just as you can be fat and healthy). If I were you, I'd do something - again, you don't have to hit the gym every day, but you do want to take walks or do something fun that gets you moving. You don't want to be frail and disabled earlier than you have to.

My exercise program - which is more strenuous than you might want, but I'm shooting for "she looks great!" - has made an incredible difference in my mood, energy level, and outlook. I sleep better. And a nice bonus - no more "bingo arms" - I rock the sleeveless tops! Yippee! I look and feel SO much better. It's tremendously confidence-boosting.

I now look forward to sweating at the gym!

teal deer: Exercise and physical activity, especially, is important as you grow older even if you could get away with doing nothing when you're young.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:24 AM on August 12, 2012

Similar experience to Rosie M. Banks. I had a fast metabolism and was slender well into my 40's. The double whammy of menopause and giving up smoking changed everything. Because I never had to think about losing weight for so many years I never developed any discipline around exercise and portion control.

I urge you to get yourself into some sort of exercise routine now while you're still relatively young. Cut back on the booze and high calorie foods (pasta and other starches) and add healthy salads to your routine. You don't have to give up the pleasure foods entirely (I sure don't), but trying to eat "clean" during the work week so you can indulge on weekends will go a long way toward a healthy future.
posted by idest at 6:37 AM on August 12, 2012

am I on a path to destruction and just completely oblivious?
Well, they say ignorance is bliss and life's too short to worry. If your body can run on autopilot and remain in healthy shape (according to your doctor) then I wouldn't sweat it. You don't have to worry about menopause or any other major hormonal shift in your body, you lucky male you. Enjoy your blessings!

What is the most dangerous thing that I am doing right now?
Worrying about it.

Do what makes you happy.
posted by carsonb at 6:39 AM on August 12, 2012

Two days a week of basketball is more exercise that the vast majority of people your age get. Having bloodwork as recent as a year ago similarly puts you way ahead of the curve.

You are right to be aware that non-overweight people (including fit people, not just the "skinny fat") can get coronary artery disease, hypertension or diabetes, but it's mainly genetic vulnerabilities at issue and not any particularly bad diet -- hence the wisdom of keeping up with physicals.
posted by MattD at 6:51 AM on August 12, 2012

I played lots of sports when I was a kid but now it is limited to a recreational basketball league once or twice a week.

That is totally exercise. And if you live in NYC, you also probably walk a couple miles a day. Compared to someone who only ever walks from their house to their car and doesn't do any sports whatsoever, yeah, you get exercise.

It might be interesting for you to use something like dailyplate for a week or so, just to see how many calories you take in.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:57 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rosie Banks and idest were my own experience too -- had the appetite of a Clydesdale Horse and the metabolism of a lab rat on meth all through my 20's and early 30's, and then in my mid 30's that suddenly changed. I woke up when I went from weighing 126 to weighing 165 within only 2 years.

Fortunately, I think the metabolism that has kept you SUPER skinny all this time is still working in your favor, because it sort of is in mine. I can't get away with eating an entire bag of Cheetos or rich Alfredo pasta sauce at EVERY meal any more, but I can stay healthy through moderation rather than asceticism; I still have Alfredo pasta sauce and red meat, I just have it once in a while rather than all the time. As for exercise - twice a week at the gym combined with biking and kayaking now and then seems to do it. Basketball once or twice a week is fine.

Moderation will do you fine - you can still have cheese and butter and all that, just not every time you go out. One thing I spotted - try pasta puttanesca instead of the pasta with sausage now and then - that may have the bold flavors you're looking for with the sausage, but is almost entirely vegetable. (That's one thing I specifically did and it worked.)

Moderation will really do it. Give it a shot.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

My partner is another one of those people who was skinny and ate like a horse until suddenly his metabolism slowed down in his 30s, and this phenomenon seems very common. And don't forget that it isn't only heart disease you need to consider--there's also cancer, diabetes, etc. There are way too many Americans who eat like you do and don't clean it up until they have to; that is, after their first heart attack or their diabetes diagnosis. If I were you, I'd make some small changes and see if you can get them to stick. If you're eating out all the time, that probably means you're eating way too much saturated fat, sugar, and empty carbs and not enough veg. One small change you could make is to try to get 5 servings of non-starchy veg a day (and not drowning in butter, either). Or to make and bring your lunch 3 days a week.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:43 AM on August 12, 2012

Just to be clear, I have not gained any weight the last couple years, I just meant that when I was 15 I was REALLY skinny. However I guess now I understand that a metabolism change could happen in my 40s as well. I am less worried about gaining weight and more worried about my heart/liver/whoknowswhat.

Also I understand that basketball is exercise, it's just that I know so many people who go and work out almost every day at the gym doing weights or cardio stuff and I really don't want to do that. I suppose I could increase my activity level by doing more sports.

Another good suggestion I think I should follow is to keep track of exactly what I am eating for a while, it will probably make for a more constructive conversation with my doctor.

Thanks very much for all the advice!
posted by solmyjuice at 8:05 AM on August 12, 2012

I was in the same "never diet" in my 20s and 30s. In my experience, the reason to start exercising and eating different now is not to keep from getting fat, but because it changes your energy level and mood - sometimes pretty dramatically.

However, my first effort at exercise was to run a lot, and that was a complete disaster. I was tired all the time, cranky. I actually think it contributed to a significant depression. In retrospect, the last thing I needed to be doing was just burning a lot of calories. My body did enough of that on its own.

What made a difference was running a lot less and finding the right mix of aerobic and anaerobic exercise, with a significant amount of weight training, especially targeting the big core muscles with squats, lunges, etc etc. There's plenty of advice about this if you dig around here and elsewhere.

So, no, you're not on a path to self-destruction, but maybe on a path to something more insidious which is entering into a period of blaaahs as your body tries to figure out how to deal with its new late-30s early-40s self. Also, you don't mention if you're in a relationship or not, but that also makes a big difference to health and well-being.

All of this, of course, YMMV and apologies if its too Captain Obvious.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:14 AM on August 12, 2012

Getting out of the city and doing some outdoors exercise will give you some nice experiences and is good for your brain. More benefit than going to the gym and you could shake this nagging feeling.
posted by zebraantelope at 8:46 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your insides are not changing to mush--yet. Since you live in NYC you maybe be getting substantially more exercise than you think by walking. Probably the most dangerous thing you are doing is not being clear with your self about how much exercise you are/are not getting. My guess is that you are in fact reasonably moderate in your habits--exercising regularly is the single most important thing you can do to maintain over all physical and mental well being (assuming you do not smoke or abuse drugs/alcohol). Continue to enjoy (in moderation) good food, alcohol and exercise. This is your father/grandfather/uncle talking.
posted by rmhsinc at 8:48 AM on August 12, 2012

I can't get away with eating an entire bag of Cheetos or rich Alfredo pasta sauce at EVERY meal any more, but I can stay healthy through moderation rather than asceticism; I still have Alfredo pasta sauce and red meat, I just have it once in a while rather than all the time.

This is important. You are one of those lucky people who doesn't have to keep to a strict diet due to innate metabolism or health conditions. So enjoy your bacon cheeseburgers - just think of them as a treat, not a regular meal. I think diets have little chance of working if you try to overhaul everything and banish absolutely all "unhealthy" foods from your diet (unless you must on doctor's orders). Think in terms of, say, adding salads rather than eating just pasta for dinner. Tomato sauce instead of Alfredo. Ice cream as a treat rather than every night. Snacking on crudites with the dip of your choice rather than Cheetos. Etc.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:00 AM on August 12, 2012

Your weight is stable, you are not sedentary, and you're seeing your doc for checkups to rule out cholesterol/heart disease. What did your doc say? Are your moods/energy level also fine? Then you're fine.

You don't have to make a hobby of diet and fitness just because many of your friends have found it necessary to do so for their health.
posted by desuetude at 11:57 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also I understand that basketball is exercise, it's just that I know so many people who go and work out almost every day at the gym doing weights or cardio stuff and I really don't want to do that.

Then don't. You really, really don't need to if all you want to do is maintain the health you've got. If it's working, then it's working.

I suppose I could increase my activity level by doing more sports.

Actually, basketball once or twice a week is more than a LOT of people do.

You really are doing okay. Maybe adding one more day of basketball and moderating the meat a little, but that's it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:16 PM on August 12, 2012

The thing that should concern you is visceral fat, specifically the kind of visceral fat that packs in around your internal organs even though you may be skinny on the outside. So, next time you see your doctor, this is what you might want to ask about, and specifically ask whether the cholesterol and blood pressure (etc) tests that you've taken also test for whatever risks are associated with having visceral fat.

This "skinny on the outside but fat on the inside" thing was a news item in the last few years, and I'm not sure what, if any, further research has been done to explore how risky it really is to be the "fat on the inside" type of person. But, your lifestyle sounds very much like it could lead to having the internal visceral fat, so it could be an area you want to look into more if this concerns you.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:22 PM on August 12, 2012

One major concern over time with poor diet is insulin resistance and diabetes. You don't have to be obese to get type 2 diabetes, just eat in a way that's imbalanced enough that your pancreas is like "WTF" and breaks eventually. For a person who eats a lot of meals prepared in restaurants, I'd be most concerned about what types of oils/fats are going into each meal--in most cases, it's going to be the cheapest type, which is, well, obviously not necessarily the healthiest one for you.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:44 PM on August 12, 2012

Being fat can be a symptom of health problems, but being skinny doesn't mean you don't have those problems.

I think eating out every meal is your number one issue that you should change. Restaurant food, even the non-fast food type, is loaded with stuff like butter and salt which is why it tastes so good.

I think you should learn to cook. Start with making yourself one nice meal a week and see how it goes.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 5:59 PM on August 12, 2012

If you're most worried about your insides, I'd track what you eat and make sure you're getting enough vitamins and minerals through your food. If your metabolism means that you can eat a lot of calories without gaining weight, then the most appropriate goal might be to ensure that - regardless of whatever junk food you eat in addition - that you're getting a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits.
posted by Kurichina at 9:00 AM on August 13, 2012

It really depends on what your goals are here. It sounds like you are not concerned about appearance/weight gain, but you are concerned about your heart, lungs, etc. But from what perspective are you concerned about them? There are two ways to look at this:

- The way most people above are looking at the problem is: you don't have any bad medical diagnoses yet, so just keep doing what you're doing. This is a reactive approach. From this approach, you would say "if I get a diagnosis of high blood pressure, then I'll work on cutting salt and exercising. If I get a diagnosis of borderline diabetes or insulin resistance, then I'll work on a low carb diet or cutting sugar. If I get a diagnosis of a heart attack or cancer, then I'll start to worry about my health."

- The way I prefer to look at the problem is: I don't have any bad medical diagnoses, and I don't WANT to ever have them in the future. How can I PREVENT poor health from happening to me by living a healthy lifestyle now? This is a proactive approach. From this approach, you would say "I don't want to have high blood pressure. Therefore I'll try to get some light exercise a few times a week and try to keep the sodium in my diet in moderation. I want my pancreas to function normally for the whole rest of my life. So I'll watch the carb and sugar content of what I eat. I want to stay cancer-free, so I'll avoid foods that are associated with cancer, I won't smoke, and I'll wear sunscreen."

If your main concern is food and exercise, there is evidence that exercise lowers your risk of cancers, like breast and colon cancer. There is evidence that certain foods increase your risk of cancer (specifically, processed/red meats with pancreatic and colorectal cancer, smoked or salted meats with stomach cancer, high fat and cholesterol diets with colorectal cancer). There is evidence that certain foods decrease your risk of cancer (antioxidants, fruits and vegetables in general for many cancers, high fiber diets for colorectal cancer, etc.) You can decrease your risk for heart disease by several of the above methods as well (exercise, fruits and vegetables). Even skinny people can get heart disease. By eating a low fat diet with more antioxidants, you'll also help prevent Alzheimer's disease, the most common dementia. The list goes on and on.

So the bottom line is that it's still not "OK" to have bacon cheeseburgers just because you're skinny, unless you don't care about prevention of serious future health problems and would prefer to wait to worry until they have already happened to you. Ignoring risk reduction strategies and evidence-based health advice is a gamble that some people are willing to take (i.e. "My aunt Thelma smoked and ate nothing but bacon and she lived to be 90!"), but it's probably not the smartest choice.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:02 AM on August 13, 2012

By the way, I'd also like to point out that even though you have no history of heart disease in your family, your older relatives were living quite a different lifestyle than you are. I'm just guessing here based on trends, but I suspect that most everyone in your family who came before you exercised more and had a significantly healthier diet. They didn't have the sorts of modern conveniences that kept them from having to expend calories or that allowed them to ingest relatively huge quantities of things like trans and saturated fats, high fructose corn syrup and sugar sugar sugar with such ease and at such little expense.

So although having a family history of heart disease would definitely be a red flag that you are at higher risk with your own heart, I think basing your own risk assessment on people of prior generations who are not actually living your lifestyle is potentially going to give you an inflated sense of safety.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:09 AM on August 13, 2012

« Older What kind of sex ed did I have?   |   Should we get a fixer-upper dog (pardon the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.